FAA imposes environmental actions on SpaceX for Texas Starship launches

SpaceX must comply with over 75 environmental actions before it can go ahead with launches of the Starship rocket at its site in Boca Chica, Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration ruled in its final environmental review. 

The FAA said in its statement that along with public safety, national security, and other analyses, the environmental requirements must be completed before a decision on whether to grant a launch license for SpaceX can be made.

The Starship rocket is intended to carry second-generation Starlink satellites, replacing the Falcon 9, which was initially expected to perform the task. Once launched, Starship will become the world’s largest and first fully reusable space launch system. 

In a tweet, SpaceX said the completion of the environmental review, which had been delayed, brings it closer to orbital flight tests of Starship. 

The FAA first made a draft assessment of SpaceX’s launch proposal in September 2021. The FAA has previously stated  that its evaluation of a permit or license application includes:

  1.  a review of public safety issues (such as overflight of populated areas and payload   contents); 

  2.  national security or foreign policy concerns; 

  3.  insurance requirements for the launch operator; and 

  4.  potential environmental impact

After consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FAA said in its final review, published June 13, 2022, that there will be more advanced notice of launches to reduce how long State Highway 4 is closed during launch operations. 

The highway traverses Boca Chica Beach, Texas State Parks and the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Closures will not be allowed on 18 identified holidays, and weekend restrictions are limited to no more than five weekends per year, ensuring robust access to the refuge and park throughout the calendar year. 

The FAA said that it will also require real-time notifications when access restrictions begin, end or are canceled.

The FAA also requires SpaceX to meet measures in order to protect flora and fauna as per the National Historic Preservation Act. Some of the measures include:

  • Ongoing monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a qualified biologist;

  • Ensuring notification of surrounding communities in advance about potential engine noise and sonic booms from launches; 

  • Coordinating with state or federal agencies to remove launch debris from sensitive habitats;

  • Adjusting lighting at the launch complex to minimize impact on wildlife and the nearby beach.

The environmental review is just one part of the FAA Launch Operator License application process. SpaceX also must meet FAA safety, risk, and financial responsibility requirements before a license is issued for any launch activities. 

According to the FAA, SpaceX’s license application is still pending.

 

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